Microsoft launched Azure as a platform as a service (PaaS) in 2010, which was basically a hosted application development platform for .Net applications. Since then though, it has added IaaS capabilities to provide customers on-demand pay-as-you-go virtual machines, storage and what it calls blob storage, or large-scale storage. It's teamed with partners like Oracle to offer databases from Azure, on top of its SQL services it already had.
Microsoft positions Azure as the best place to run Microsoft apps in the cloud. By having a common management platform between its Azure cloud and Windows Systems Center/Hyper-V on customer's premises, Microsoft has a true hybrid cloud architecture it can offer customers. AWS doesn't have an answer for customers who want a private cloud. Although, third-party companies like Eucalyptus and NetApp are happy to step in.
Even with all the advancements, Microsoft still faces challenges though. A cloud-like pay-as-you-go operating expense model, as opposed to the potentially more lucrative (for vendors) upfront capital expense model is a shift in the revenue model for legacy technology companies. As more applications are hosted the cloud, it can reduce the need for on-premises hardware. In that sense, the cloud represents both a challenge and an opportunity for Microsoft.
Amazon Web Services also continues to drive the cloud market discussion. Amazon had the lead in the market because it was the first to offer a true IaaS offering and ever since 2006 it's had the head start in terms of product features and functionality. When Amazon makes a price cut, other companies like Microsoft follow. That points to how Amazon is leading the cloud marketing discussion. Microsoft has also been hit with some service issues. Most recently, technical glitches prevented users from using management functions or accessing files in Azure's cloud.
Azure is the platform of choice for .Net developers of hosted applications, some question if it has won the hearts and minds of younger, next-generation developers who may be turned off by Microsoft tools and services.
Azure is a platform that seems to be gaining steam though and Microsoft's history of serving the business community shouldn't be overlooked. "They know the enterprise market," says Dave Roberts, co-founder of cloud forum website LeverHawk, and a marketer with BMC. The company's decades of experiences developing relationships, a channel market provides Microsoft an opportunity to leverage those relationships to sell Azure and Systems Center.
"Azure 1.0 wasn't going to fly," Roberts said, noting that as a PaaS it was too focused on Microsoft application development. Then, last year Microsoft pivoted and began offering Linux-based virtual machines as an IaaS provider, and has since been adding features and functionality. "Microsoft, to its credit, listened to the market and made corrections." Since then it's been on an aggressive run to add features and functionality to its cloud, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Will it be enough to catch Amazon?
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